Unpredictable is a column from Caty McCarthy circling around recent games and other happenings bustling in the world of media. This week features the game Transistor (in light of the release of Pyre) and the show Game of Thrones.
Supergiant's latest game Pyre is out today across computers and consoles. It's an ambitious game from the developers of Transistor and Bastion, one with excellent twists on RPG progression, world building, and molding a sports-like core into something strange, mystical, and unfamiliar. As with all Supergiant's releases it still has its faults, but it's a game still well worth playing even in sight of its failings.
Bastion never hit me like it hit a lot of players, but the developers' follow-up Transistor did. Transistor has flaws too. Its locale, the cyberpunk saturated city of Cloudbank, often feels more like the shell of a city than one once inhabited by citizens. After playing Pyre, I felt like Supergiant's excellent art direction finally got a chance to truly shine, adding a rhyme to the reason for their gorgeous art even if it was at the cost of something else that made Transistor so great: its music and hyperfocused story.
Transistor wasn't a tale of exasperated redemption like Pyre, but of revenge. When we first meet Red, the red-haired heroine of the game, she's pulling a soft-glowing sword out of a corpse. The sword talks to her; she was once a famous singer—posters of her crowd the walls of Cloudbank—but now she's without a voice. Only a soft hum remains. The sword does all the talking for her, essentially. The sword, or rather the Transistor, is close to Red, and she's close to the sword.
The story that unfolds is a solemn one, but it's earnest. In a hub-like oasis, Red has the opportunity to revisit her vocal-driven past; her songs play loudly in the mini-paradise. We grow close to Red through this, learning of her past through her music, and the person she was once able to be. Not the one cutting down robots in the street with a giant teal sword.
The music in Pyre, meanwhile, is far more subdued. It remains alluring—much like Bastion's too—but it's parsed down to a harmful degree compared to Supergiant's prior games. Your musician sorta-companion in your party is the one who plays hymns for you on occasion, and his voice is soft, aching, and bringing a much-needed sense of melancholy to the game itself. But aside from his very occasional soft musings, music hardly plays a role in Pyre. At least not as evidently as it once did in Transistor.
Transistor uses its music past just setting a tone as most games do, it complements everything in the game, and even has a part in telling the story on its own. Music is a source of life, of yearning for Red. Music is granted as big of a role as any other asset in the game—residing carefully alongside its setting, gameplay, story, and art to tie the entire game together. Music in Transistor was the cherry on top of an already fine game. Without it, Transistor wouldn't be the same game at all. That was its power. The power of music.
I honestly, honestly, honestly have no idea why I've kept with Game of Thrones for so long. I've been watching from the start, technically lost interest somewhere around season three. And yet every season I'm right there on HBO Go, readily awaiting episodes to go live.
I wouldn't qualify Game of Thrones as a hatewatch even, because I don't hate it. I'm just utterly bored by it, week after week, season after season. Character deaths feel perfunctory, instead of the jaw-dropping shockers they once were. Romances feel forced in the post-George R. R. Martin-penned novels world, where the world itself feels like fan fiction—because that's what it's seemingly become. I've just been so tired of Game of Thrones for so long; it's a cultural fad that's prevailed for what feels like my entire life. I worry we'll never escape it. (And with news of spin-offs, we maybe never will.)
For some reason though, I can't stop watching. I don't watch it for pure joy, but more through obligation. I've wasted so much time watching this far, I can't drop it now, can I? That's the mental gymnastics I've wrestled with at least. I just gotta see who winds up on that throne. (Surely it has to be Daenarys, right? At least at some capacity?)
Game of Thrones is the only show that's seemingly trapped me by its spell. Usually if a show doesn't get better, I have no qualms dropping it. Like with Shameless, a show I haven't watched in years but is still somehow going (in accordance with the Showtime curse). With anime, I drop more shows than I end up finishing, giving each series around three episodes to win me over usually. In most cases, they don't.
Game of Thrones is a tricky one though. Seemingly the only exception to the rule. It is a curiosity that keeps me going; a wish that it'll return to the strong roots of its initial first few seasons. This season and the final one are both shorter than usual, giving hope to cutting out the fluff and nonsense that's plagued past seasons.
Alas, I'll keep watching Game of Thrones reluctantly; bored as ever. Maybe the true game of thrones is how long the thrones gambit can string us along until we die, Red Wedding-style.